Parents ask legislators for medical exception for marijuana

, Gainesville Times

For Oakwood mother of five Sarah Caruso, it’s hard to understand why a possible treatment for her daughter’s seizures is illegal.

“For us it seems like a no-brainer because it’s something proven to work for the issues that my child has. Why wouldn’t that be legal?” she said.

That treatment is medical marijuana.

Parents and advocates of allowing medical exceptions to use of the substance, which is illegal in all forms by federal and state law, are raising their voices this legislative session.

Americans for Safe Access in Georgia, the group lobbying for changes, will make sure a parent is at the legislature every day, Caruso said.

“I’m going to try and go on Jan. 27 to see who we can meet with, and maybe just explain ourselves,” she said. “I think they’ll see that we’re good people who are just trying to fight for what’s right for our kids. We are in no way, shape or form pushing for recreational use. We want the oil.”

Caruso was carrying twin girls, and complications in the pregnancy and a premature delivery left her now-5-year-old daughter Britlyn with cerebral palsy. Then, the seizures began.

Britlyn was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 2.

“Her seizures started out very, very small — about two seconds long — and they just kept progressing and progressing and progressing,” Caruso said. “We saw one neurologist who said the only way to stop them would be to put her in a medically induced coma.”

Caruso said she worries about her daughter’s quality of life, being on a battery of prescription drugs, including Valium, a narcotic sedative.

“For us, we have nothing to lose. (Marijuana) doesn’t have any negative side effects, it only has positive side effects,” she said. “We’ve talked about moving to Colorado if it ever got really bad and had to make that decision.”

“If for whatever reason Georgia doesn’t pass this, a parent is going to do what they’re going to do,” she added.

Common misconceptions stifle dialogue on the issue, she said.

“It’s not the typical marijuana plant that everyone thinks about,” she said. “What they do is they take the oil from that plant, and it only has the 1 percent (tetrahydrocannabinol). It doesn’t get you high; you can’t overdose on it. The high (cannabidiol) is what helps the seizures.”

Caruso wrote 234 legislators, and a handful wrote her back, including Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville.

Hawkins is a dentist, and said he keeps an eye toward ensuring patients’ rights to choose the care right for them.

“I think in this issue patients are the most important aspect,” he said.

“We need to always look at ways to help anyone who is ill.

“I’m going to look at this very closely,” he added. “As I understand it, this is not THC — not recreational.”

The medical community has not readily offered its perspective, she said.

“Doctors are mum right now,” she said.

“In the state of Georgia, they don’t want to say anything. Some of them are not allowed to say anything, whether they agree or disagre with it.”

Whether marijuana would be effective or not, Caruso said not trying is not an option, given what’s at stake.

“Our No. 1 fear is waking up in the morning and our daughter has died because she had a seizure in the middle of the night that we didn’t hear,” she said. “It would be nice to try a medication, and at least have some peace of mind.

“This is the No. 1 thing we’re thinking about all the time.”